Mindless Algorithm

A blog for someone who sometimes writes

Phone Call UX

July 03, 2020

Like so many young people I hate making and receiving phone calls. Various apps (WhatsApp, Zoom, Google Hangouts) have supplanted them for me and my work colleagues. I still get them from time to time though, and I think it’s worth writing out what I hate about them so much.

  1. Identity. Caller ID relies on me saying who the caller is. In the case of unknown callers, I have no idea who they are. This is in sharp contrast to email, where senders announce their identity. There are some steps being made towards making this better but in almost all cases these are not used. Worse, some callers actively hide their phone number. I can’t simply block all unknown numbers, as they are occasionally important.
  2. Importance. Caused by the above, there is no way to screen calls for importance if I don’t know their identity, short of extremely blunt instruments like blocking/deprioritising all unknown numbers.
  3. Interruption/Immediacy. Phone calls must be answered straight away, interrupting whatever else I was doing. I basically never endorse this happening outside of an emergency. I can let them go to voice mail, and I do, but frequently important callers refuse to leave voice mails and in case of emergency I would rather not do this.
  4. Archiving. There is no way of archiving or searching phone calls I have made for important information. This also makes the information on calls not shareable. This may even be illegal in some cases, though I presume speech-to-text software to transcibe calls would be allowed.
  5. Sign of bad process. If a company calls me instead of emailing me to resolve a problem (or requires me to call them) it’s usually a sign that something is terribly wrong. Either they are intentionally being difficult (e.g. to prevent cancellations) or they are incompetent at resolving problems via other channels. So I have some learned hatred of phone calls due to this.

Probably some of these disadvantages for me are advantages for the caller. The main reason for calling people seems to be to get their immediate attention for the purposes of selling them something. Phone calls therefore act as one of many asshole filters in everyday life.

To be fair, phone calls do have some advantages which can be useful. I think these are always dominated by calls using apps, which allow video and known identity. And frequently text based channels are better than both due to being asynchronous and searchable.

  1. Bandwidth. People speak faster than they write, and more clearly.
  2. Privacy. In general calls are not recorded and so are more private than text based conversations.
  3. Signalling. It’s a useful signal of commitment to devote your whole and immediate attention to someone in a phone or video call.